Professor Michael Harris, Director of the Environmental Law Clinic, said that stopping a permitted timber project in Colorado is extremely rare. However, his third-year law students, Mason Brown and Justine Shepherd, won that rare victory against the timber industry.
The pair argued against the U.S. Forest Services’ permit to allow 3,400 acres of logging on environmentally fragile lands in the Rio Grande National Forest. In the past decades, the area was previously damaged by logging and is now suffering from beetle infestation. Also, the permits would have allowed for the construction of 11 miles of roads throughout the forested area.
In 2009, the case originated when the forest service approved the sale of the land for logging purposes. Colorado Wild, a non-profit organization now called Rocky Mountain Wild, sought the help of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Environmental Law Clinic. On behalf of Colorado Wild and WildEarth Guardians, former students, Jacob Schlesinger and Ashley Wilmes who have recently graduated and worked under the direction of Professor Michael Harris, prepared and filed the suit in Denver’s federal court. In November 2011, U.S. District Judge William Martinez requested oral arguments in an administrative procedure.
On February 9th, 2012, U.S. District Judge WIlliam Martinez ruled that the U.S. Forest Service had violated the National Forest Management Act and that an Environmental Assessment was inadequate. The ruling overturns issued permits for the Handkerchief Mesa area, near Alamosa in the southwestern corner of the state.